Tagged: acoustic

The Finish Field


We have heard from Ruth Garbus and received her 2014 Joule EP she made for OSR Tapes (not yet reviewed); here’s an entire album of her fragile songs called Rendezvous With Rama (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 191). Ruth is based in Brattleboro Vermont, also home to the songwriting team Blanche Blanche Blanche, who are likewise represented on this label. Where the Blanche duo are somewhat mannered and artificial, making a virtue out of their irony and obliqueness, Ruth Garbus is far more direct and honest in her songwriting, and in her delivery. Just a voice and an acoustic guitar strumming simple chords, but what a voice…incredibly soft and gentle, almost barely staining the recording tape with its suffused presence, yet she never misses a note, even when attempting some quite challenging scales and intervals.

Rendezvous is quite the introverted album and sure to appeal to shut-ins, lonely young people and romantics around the world, but it has an honesty and clarity which marks this out as something quite special. I’d like to be able to decipher more of the lyrics, but you can tell from Ruth’s tone that every word is sincere and heartfelt. If you find Joni Mitchell’s Blue too outspoken and contrived, this is just the record for you…it will take you to a very small and intimate, personal place. Very good indeed. From September 2015.

Slow Food


Fieldtone are a five-piece of Belgian players who perform four very languid and dreamy pieces on Book Of Air (GRANVAT / SUB ROSA SRV412)…it’s done using guitars both electric and acoustic, double bass, and drums, and the way they perform is closer to some late-night smooth jazz cafe situation than anything to do with hard rock music. Low-key, restraint and taut playing are the keywords; the listener’s metabolic rate is slowed down instantly, just by turning on the CD player. Stijn Cools, the drummer of the band, is credited with music composition; and the release is described as the first chapter in a series of “bundled compositions for improvised music”.

Fieldtone have discovered to their own satisfaction that there’s a sound embedded in nature, and have taken its “slow groove” as inspiration for their music, based largely it seems on positive but highly subjective emotions they may have felt by the seaside or walking in the forest or simply sitting in an open field. Emotions too deep to be expressed in words are instead expressed by silence; at root, it’s this silence – something which might imply a deep respect for nature – which Fieldtone are attempting to capture in their slow music. There’s also something to do with “room tone”, which may be about the acoustics and “unique character” of a performance space. However the notes also refer to the times when a performance space is dormant, and no music is played or no words are spoken in this space. They want to capture that too. At this point I could feel the exercise becoming a shade too metaphysical for my poor brain to comprehend.

The music is played with faultless expertise, for sure, and the assurance with which easy syrupy strum is uttered, or each string harmonic is plucked carries a lot of weight and craft behind it. I find each piece is also very static; in attempting to bottle the indefinable atmosphere of nature in this way, Fieldtone opt to stay pretty much in one place for a very long time, the better to contemplate their projected memories of fields and skies, and savour the lush silences. While the ideas on offer are original, and one must applaud their ecological bent, I find this record unsatisfying; the tastefulness of their sound is a problem for me, and the sense that the musicians are not really exerting themselves very much at all. From November 2015.

Antico Adagio: spellbinding minimalist music of beauty and intense focus


Lino Capra Vaccina, Antico Adagio, Die Schachtel, DS27CD (2014)

First issued in 1978, this beautiful if unassuming recording of minimalist compositions based around the sounds of various percussion instruments played by Lino “Capra” Vaccina, accompanied by four other musicians, was reissued on CD by Die Schachtel in 2014 and reprinted in 2015 – the sign of a very popular reissue. The CD reissue also includes bonus tracks from another recording, “Frammenti da Antico Adagio” which consists of unreleased music from the original 1978 recording sessions for “Antico Adagio”.

I can understand why the album sold out promptly on its reissue: despite its quiet, inward-looking nature, the music can be really spellbinding in its intense focus, and it draws listeners deep, far deep into its twinkling depths. By necessity the music needs to be played loudly enough the first few times, especially third track “Canti delle sfere” which is a very sonorous beast dominated by the rich tones, vibrations and echoes of a gong, all beckoning listeners into the dark austere universe of stately moving planets from which it hails. After you’ve spun the recording often enough to know as many tracks as you want, you’ll be wishing that most pieces here should have run at least twice as long as they actually do, just to stay in the strange worlds opened up in the album.

There is a lot of repetition as might be expected in minimalist music and much of the music seems to be an exploration of percussion-generated tones and rhythms that might act as portals into unknown alien worlds. Sometimes the repetition works well and at other times it does sound clunky and a bit boring if it continues on too long (as on the title track). Atmosphere exists as a by-product of the music and if you’re so inclined, you can allow it to lull you into a peaceful meditative state in which lightness and a feeling of oneness with the universe are possible. While the attitude might be studious, the music never feels forced.

Most tracks are very enjoyable though I did find “Motus” a bit less than satisfying, probably because its layered quality and earnest beat seemed so out of place with the rest of the album. The best tracks retain an air of spontaneity and lightness that allow them to trip lightly by. There is a majestic quality as well to the recording and it really does come across as a soundtrack that would win its hypothetical film a clutch of awards.

This definitely is an album to be heard at least once. After that, you may well find yourself returning to it again and again and again … you’ll probably even be looking forward to the next reprint …


Secret Sorrows


In same envelope as the IFCO album was a copy of Karla Borecky’s solo piano record, Still In Your Pocket (RECITAL NINE), released in 2014. Borecky has been honing her skills on the piano for some years now, and it’s excellent that she’s been given this showcase for her music. It’s in marked contrast to the IFCO album; for Lost At Sea, the piano is just one part of the overall composition, and the piano figures have been compressed and forced into a particular form. On Still In Your Pocket, the musician is able to stretch out a little more, but every piece remains a model of clarity and simplicity. You could divide the album into its two sides (and LPs used to be programmed this way, back in the good old days); five shorter “narrative” tunes are on side one, the two long “abstract and modernist” pieces are on side two. The A side reminded one reviewer of Chopin nocturnes; me, I think of Erik Satie, only a far less playful Satie, not a man amused by umbrellas and tea parties and parlour games, but one who finds himself transported against his will from early 20th century Europe into the desolation of a modern American shopping mall, and doesn’t know where to turn in his confused and cresftallen state. Titles here indicate we could read the tunes as short stories (‘Suspense in the Library’), as landscape paintings (‘The Passing of Clouds’) as mood pieces, (‘The Sadness of Things’), or all three. If I recall, Karla has also done a painting called ‘The Sadness of Things’. To a prog fan like myself, this could be the acoustic update on ELP’s Pictures At An Exhibition. Unlike ELP, compression and brevity, along with invention and melody, are the watchwords here.

On the B side, we have the excellent ‘Structure’ and the title track, both quite lengthy and as above highly reminiscent of Morton Feldman and John Cage – only there is far more heart and emotion in one minute of Borecky’s music than John Cage managed in a lifetime of arid composition. As to structure, it’s as though she’s imitating a Feldman-like approach to creating patterns, only doing so by pure intuition rather than through compositional methods; although I’m not sure if the pieces are written, spontaneous, or represent some halfway-house approach. If I am right about the intuition, she may share some common ground with Ashley Paul, who has listened to so much Feldman it’s practically in her bones, and aims to feed the inspiration directly into her spontaneous guitar music. While I enjoy the up-tempo and semi-narrative A side, the spare B-side is just perfect in its austerity, and is a totally mesmerising 20 minutes which enables the listener to enter a very still and serene zone, which you will be reluctant to depart from. In all, a very genuine and heartfelt, crafted work of art.

Gnosis: fusion of east and west, body and spirit, in a rich and hypnotic work

Spectral Lore, Gnosis, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD EP IVR050 (2015)

I understand that this EP isn’t typical of Spectral Lore’s ambient BM discography but after reading a few reviews of some of this act’s other recordings, I realise that Ayloss, the man behind Spectral Lore, isn’t one to stick to the straight and narrow left-hand path. “Gnosis” is a very rich, beautiful and hypnotic work that fuses powerful and hard-hitting corrosive black metal and music of a more esoteric and mystical bent drawn from folk music traditions in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. If ever you desire to hear fusion black metal / psychedelia combined with music from former Orthodox Christian / Byzantine imperial territories, this highly immersive and evocative EP is the work to refer to.

As its title suggests, “Dualism” straddles the parallel universes of tough, straightforward BM and the soundscapes of blazing hot winds sweeping over shifting landforms of sand through which ghosts of people who lived and died in these regions over the millennia whisper warnings against venturing too far into these desolate realms. While guitars dominate here with twisting Oriental melody and powerful riffs, the drums pound out near-tribal beats and synthesisers add an epic brassy aspect that turn the track into a mini-movie soundtrack. “Gnosis’ Journey through the Ages” is an even more powerful if perhaps repetitive and somewhat unstructured juggernaut of crashing percussion, exotic winding quarter-tone melody, harsh desert demon sighing and expansive windswept and sand-blasted soundscapes that suggest a long, tortuous and perhaps brutal and violent history of Gnosticism through the ages, surviving persecution again and again through underground movements and societies.

“Averroes’ Search”, a reference to the mediaeval Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd who defended secular reasoning, and the short story of the same name by 20th-century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, is an all-acoustic affair of squiggly guitar, bass and percussion mixing formless improvisation and an intricate winding melody accompanied by stately rhythms. The song links two personages (Ibn Rushd and Borges) of two very different and perhaps opposed ages with Ayloss, and its message is that cultures of both East and West have more in common than people realise. By itself “Averroes’ Search” is a very entertaining, absorbing and above all fun piece but it is very long. In the context of the whole recording, it saps the earlier momentum and intensity built up by previous tracks. “A God made of Flesh and Consciousness” is a return to fusion BM / Oriental music form, and while it’s quite a good solid track there are occasional filler-music moments where the guitars seem to be constantly on the defensive battling unseen monsters and barriers, and not advancing very much.

Final track “For Aleppo” appears to stand out from the rest of the EP and has an elegiac and sorrowful mood. The piece may be a lament for the destruction of the Syrian city’s priceless cultural heritage by fanatical ISIS and other Wahhabi Islamist takfiris. A listener can be made painfully aware of the permanence of impermanence, when valued culture in the form of particular objects, the buildings of a city, and the ways in which they are laid out and structured to reflect community values, is destroyed and lost forever.

This is a very singular, passionate and entrancing recording. There are a few stylistic details that I would quibble about but these are my personal preferences: if I’d been the one waving a whip, I’d ask for the acoustic tracks and “A God …” to be tightened up and edited for length and for less background synthesiser imitating conventional Western orchestras. The BM element on this recording is strong and powerful enough to support more live acoustic instrumentation in the cultural traditions being referenced here.

I’d go so far as to say that, with the passage of time, “Gnosis” may come to be considered a major black metal fusion classic of its kind.

PS: The cover of the album is a reproduction of the painting “Lycinna” by John William Godward (1861 – 1922), a late 19th-century British Neoclassicist painter who had the misfortune of being a contemporary of French Impressionists and (later) post-Impressionist and avant-garde art movements. The choice of a Godward painting as the album cover may reflect an interest in an idealised world and culture that could have existed but whose opportunity for existence has now been lost. Significantly, while Godward was alive his work was derided for being outdated but his reputation has risen since his death.



Hearing Pefkin’s idiosyncratic take on acoustic folk music on Liminal Rites (WILD SILENCE NO NUMBER), I was reminded very briefly of The Iditarod whom we heard on their 2014 Foxfur & Rarebits compilation; based on scant evidence, I’m imagining there’s a recent trend in the UK (which might intersect with Sharron Kraus at some point) towards an extremely delicate and almost pallid form of singing and guitar-playing, arriving at something a bit like folk music, but which is quite some way from the full-bodied performances of 1960s folk revivalists such as Ray & Archie Fisher.

However, Pefkin is doing more than just singing and playing on these uncategorisable and near-shapeless (in a good way) solo recordings, touching on genres such as psychedelic rock and ambient drone, and creating captivating trance-like pieces from material that’s so insubstantial as to be almost transparent. Any patterns that emerge from her languid guitar strums or her thin singing voice appear to be happening entirely in my imagination, as she takes the idea of “free form” into her own personal dimension. It’s as though she’s trying to describe something so beautiful and personal that she’s reluctant to share it with anyone else, so she whispers it into her pillow or writes in a private diary and hides away the key. Or else she fears disturbing the unearthly mood that has been conjured up by a sunset, a view of the ocean, or a walk through a shaded glen, barely daring to pick up her watercolour brush to stain the paper. The lyrics are hard to make out, her voice rethought as another instrument in the spartan mix of guitars, drone, and wash effects; and for some reason I imagined she may even be singing in a Gaelic dialect.

Why did I even suppose there’s a folk music connection? Well, perhaps it’s something about the melodies, which tend to stay in a folk-like pentatonic scale; and the drones, though probably generated by synths, might evoke the Pibroch. Gayle Brogan is Pefkin, and is probably better known to you as one half of Electroscope in the late 1990s with John Cavanagh, who also appears here guesting on clarinets and VCS3 on a couple of tracks, and also as a recording engineer. This was released in a very limited run on a French label, packaged with a tracing-paper wrapper over a chipboard sleeve, and arrived here 5th October 2015. We’ve also heard Pefkin on Inner Circle, Outer Circle on the Belgian label Morc Records, and there’s much more material in her back catalogue released by Foxglove, Pseudoarcana, and her own Curiously Euphonic label.

Man Of Iron


Solo percussion noise by Polish experimenter Adam Gołębiewski on his Pool North (LATARNIA RECORDS #LA005) album…Adam is dedicated to the exploration of free music, free jazz, improvisation and (evidently) abstract noise as well, and has played with some excellent musicians in his time including the wild man of the tenor sax, Mats Gustafsson. Also available elsewhere is an obscure document of his Polish tour with Zenial, Michael Esposito, and Phantom Air Waves from 2015.

Pool North is such an extreme-sounding record you might be surprised to learn it’s all acoustic, played on a straight-forward jazz drum kit set-up and recorded with conventional microphone placement. The originality all comes from Adam Gołębiewski’s very direct and innovative playing skills. He stresses his “non-classical” and “far from traditional” instrumental practices, and appears to have developed his own very unusual approaches to sound generation and manipulation. As such, there’s a lot of scraping and rubbing techniques that produce astonishing groaning sounds, forcibly extracting half-alien murmurs and shrieks from metal, wood, and drumskin.

I like this just fine; in fact I prefer it to the few instances where he rattles and bangs and paradiddles in a manner slightly more akin to free jazz. In short, the noisier he gets, the happier I am. It’s one thing to attack the drum kit strewn with multiple foreign objects, as Chris Cutler has done; it’s another thing to bow the cymbals, like Eddie Prévost, and still another to brush gongs to produce lush avant-gamelan drones, like Mark Wastell. Adam Gołębiewski seems determined to push things further down these pathways, and does so in a very physical fashion. Among current avant drummers, I’d say that only Will Guthrie is his match in terms of sheer stamina and extended technique. The cover art, depicting fire irons, is one step away from endorsing medieval torture; it comes close to expressing the near-painful and very physical nature of Gołębiewski’s work, as though he’s pulling teeth or stretching the sinews of a cadaver. From 21 October 2015.


Te Shii Es Tah

Enjoying the album Te Shii Es Tah (VETO RECORDS) by Sekhmet, a Swiss trio who play cello, piano, synths, and drums. The label’s often associated with jaunty free improv records, but Sekhmet don’t entirely fit that profile, and have an unusual sound with an approach to match. Elements of free playing are discernible, but the trio play with such poise and care that the results end up sounding more like modern chamber music that’s been bleached out and faded through 200 bottles of industrial-strength Scelsi, after a pre-wash in a gallon of Feldman…now that I think of it, perhaps more modernist composers should lend their names to brands of laundry products. While ‘So Osun’ may satisfy your thirst for brittle, boney improv of a spidery nature, a track like ‘Af’tah’ is so attenuated it’s barely hanging by a thread, and the subtle brushed gong recordings of Prévost or Wastell seem positively rich in comparison. ‘Liv’ is a solemn funeral drone punctuated by slow ponderous chords from the piano, and ‘Khshnash’ is like the lead violinist from an Luigi Nono concert stepping out for a duet with a one-handed Dannie Richmond. Many of these tunes are short, intense miniatures, but you’ve also got longer workouts such as ‘Clerte O Gun’ where the threesome work themselves into a controlled frenzy of hate, sawing and hammering the guts out of modern music before laying the cadaver in its grave. Sara Käser, Raphael Loher and Vincent Glanzmann are the talented threesome creating this distinctive and innovative acoustic melange of dissonant marmalade. From 9th October 2015.

Saturn Swings


We last noted the Swiss trio Plaistow in October 2012 with their fine and sturdy album of instrumentals called Lacrimosa; and their drummer Cyril Bondi is a regular name in these pages, quite often adding his percussive twigs and mallets to the radically experimental work of Diatribes. The new collection Titan (DYFL / PLAISTOW MUSIC DYCL04CD) once again showcases the superb and inventive piano work of Johann Bourquenez, while for this session the bass guitarist Raphaël Ortis has been replaced by an acoustic double-bass player, Vincent Ruiz. Perhaps because of the mostly acoustic piano-bass-drums configuration, I mistook this music for some form of “jazz” last time, but the press notes for Titan are clear on this point: “It’s not jazz,” they state, adding as a further caveat “It’s not conceptual”.

What remains is a shared musical interest in economy and minimalism (even in some places achieving a very close resemblance to Philip Glass), stating and restating very simple patterns, and also flirting with noise – as much abstract noise as it’s possible to generate from this acoustic set-up. There’s also groove – the bass player and drummer given license on some tracks to deliver a stripped-down form of acoustic Techno or dub, which is a strong indicator of these musicians’ Catholic tastes and their modernity. While no-one will be spinning Titan on the dancefloor any time soon, the precision and tension of the playing here is exemplary, notes hammered home as if fired from a rivet gun (an exceptionally clean and well-oiled rivet gun). The trio’s muse for Titan is an outer-space theme, and all the titles are “freely inspired by the moons of Saturn”, and not just their names but some understanding of their orbit patterns and geophysical characteristics has likewise fed into the work. “One day here lasts ten hours”, state Plaistow blithely, as if they were fully acclimatised to living on or nearby this gigantic planet.

While a connection is not explicitly stated in the music, I need hardly remind the reader of the original Saturn-dwelling jazz pioneer Sun Ra. I was going to write that he would have given his full blessing to this project, but now I doubt if he would have been inclined to do that, since Plaistow are indifferent to metaphor. Titan’s insistence on factual detail doesn’t leave a great deal of room for imagination, either that of the player or the listener – a strategy reflected in the cool and restrained cover graphics. Instead, they succeed in offering a “bone-chilling experience”, with music that is both dynamic and crisp, backed by solid water-tight performances. From 21 September 2015.

Black (Coffee) Celebration


Sylvain Chauveau & Ensemble Nocturne
Down To The Bone

Well, this is a rum one, and no mistake.

One of my comic-reading highlights of 2015 was James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s “Airboy”, a tour-de-force of self-loathing that actually made me laugh out loud in a coffee shop. This was in response to a panel where Robinson’s character rages against slowed down acoustic versions of 80s new wave songs. High street coffee shops tend to have such things on permanent loop, of course. So, imagine my surprise, and my trepidation, when my review pile yielded up this little item, subtitled “An Acoustic Tribute To Depeche Mode”.

I genuinely do not know what to make of this. I guess it succeeds on its own terms, because these are indeed acoustic versions of Depeche Mode songs, tastefully arranged for piano and strings. The musicians play well, the singer is fine, so these are not bad versions as such, even if it’s very hard to distinguish one track from the next. Apart from Track 6, “(Enjoy) The Silence”, which is 47 seconds of, yes, near silence.

I should point out that I have no strong feelings about Depeche Mode one way or the other, so I have no emotional attachment to the songs. But really, who is this aimed at? If you were a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions? If you’re not a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen to an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions of songs by a band you weren’t really interested in?

Chauveau is described as an “experimental crooner”, although it’s hard to see what’s experimental about any of this. The arrangements don’t seem to reveal any hidden depths or surprising aspects of the originals, apart from the surprise at how similar it all sounds. Maybe there’s a high concept that I’m not picking up or a joke that I’m not getting, but in the end, this doesn’t appear to be anything more than a collection of slowed down acoustic versions of new wave songs.

If that’s your cup of macchiato, or if you’re a café owner putting together a playlist, dive on in.

Editor’s note: this is a reissue of an album originally released in 2005 on Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L’Acier.